TULSA - Fifty years ago, police in Phoenix, Arizona arrested a man without incident in connection with the rape of a young woman with learning disabilities after her brother spotted a pickup which matched her description of the suspect's vehicle.
That arrest kicked off a case which went all the way to the Supreme Court, and ended in the overturning of Ernesto Miranda's conviction, and the beginning of a new policy for police agencies throughout the nation.
They were now required to inform someone of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights before questioning them, and did so by reading what has become known as a "Miranda Warning."
In its most elementary form, as outlined in Miranda v Arizona, the statement goes something like this:
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning. If you cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided for you at government expense.
However, each police agency has the option to change or alter the wording, as long as the basic right of protection against self-incrimination and the right to legal representation are both explained to a detainee.
A more elaborate version, used by some police agencies, might go something like this:
You have the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions. Do you understand?
Anything you do say may be used against you in a court of law. Do you understand?
You have the right to consult an attorney before speaking to the police and to have an attorney present during questioning now or in the future. Do you understand?
If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you before any questioning if you wish. Do you understand?
If you decide to answer questions now without an attorney present you will still have the right to stop answering at any time until you talk to an attorney. Do you understand?
Knowing and understanding your rights as I have explained them to you, are you willing to answer my questions without an attorney present?
Some people believe the Miranda Warning must be read before someone can be arrested, but that is not the case.
The Miranda Warning is used to ensure that any statements a suspect might make will be admissible as evidence against them in a court of law.
Therefore, theoretically if police had all the evidence they needed to arrest and convict someone without any type of confession or voluntary statement by that defendant, the Miranda Warning would be unnecessary.
Moreover, police do not have to Mirandize witnesses, nor Mirandize someone before asking basic questions such as a person's name, address, phone number, place of business, etc.
Ironically, in Ernesto Miranda's case, that's more or less what eventually happened.
The State of Arizona retried Miranda, and convicted him.
He died in a barroom brawl in 1976.